Chiang Mai offers visitors excellent shopping opportunities. The collection of products available ranges from all the creations of the city’s famed handicraft industries through to high-end designer accessories, clothes and jewellery. The assortment of venues to go shopping at is no less diverse. Colourful markets, swish shopping malls and themed locations such as Baan Tawai Handicraft Village provide variety.
Prices, especially for made in Chiang Mai handicrafts and clothing, are on the low side. In markets and the Night Bazaar a bit of haggling ensures even better purchase prices. This guide to shopping in Chiang Mai provides information about what to buy and recommended locations to go shopping.
BEST SHOPPING PLACES IN CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai’s markets are colourful and vibrant affairs. Warorot is the city’s central market and part of the Chinatown shopping zone close to the west bank of the Ping River. Ton Lamyai Flower Market is in the same area while Muang Mai Market is about a kilometre north. Khamthiang Flower Market, Chiang Mai Gate Market and the Night Bazaar are the other markets of interest for tourists. Kalare and Anusarn are two night markets close to the Night Bazaar which offer a mix of shopping and dining.
Warorot Market is located at the heart of Chinatown and serves as Chiang Mai’s central market. The market’s nickname, Kad Luang, even translates from the Northern Thai dialect as this. Although tourists do visit, Warorot’s reason for being is to serve local shoppers and it is a colourful spot to gain insights into Lanna heritage. The outside pavement of the market is lined with clothes and gold shops.
The inner ground floor features stalls loaded up with vegetables, herbs, fruit and the North’s portfolio of chilli pastes and mixes. One of the stalls on the east side sells Indian spices and curry ingredients. On this same side, other stallholders sell household utensils and religious articles. Stalls on the two higher floors stock shoes and clothes. Traditional Thai farmers’ outfits and sarongs are sold here.
The Night Bazaar
The Night Bazaar is on Chang Khlan Road and is the premier location for souvenir and handicraft shopping. In the building itself, on Chang Klan and over the road in the Kalare Centre, vendors sell wood carvings, pewter ornaments, lacquerware, traditional and modern clothes, fashion accessories and bags, toys, games and pictures.
Baan Tawai Handicraft Village
A shopping expedition to Baan Tawai is one of the highlights of a visit to Chiang Mai. The collection of items on sale is varied. Wooden elephants, teak furniture, old wheels from buffalo carts, ornate table lamps, lacquerware, antiques, sand-stuffed animals, dolls, jewellery, textiles and Buddha statues are a selection, but not all, of the items on offer at Baan Tawai. Baan Tawai is in Hang Dong District and 15kms south of Chiang Mai.
San Kamphaeng Handicraft Highway
The San Kamphaeng stretch of Highway 1006 east from Chiang Mai has been nicknamed the Handicraft Highway. Factory and retail outlets on the route sell silk clothing and accessories, lacquerware, jewellery featuring semi-precious stones, Bo Sang sa paper umbrellas, silverware and the region’s signature celadon ceramics. Recommended outlets are Baan Celadon, The Thai Silk Village, Shinawatra Thai Silk, Patanaanunwong Silver Jewellery and Gems Gallery.
Bo Sang Umbrella Village
The Bo Sang Handicraft Centre is beside San Kamphaeng Road and is the hub of Chiang Mai’s sa paper umbrella industry. A tour of the centre gives insights into how the paper is created from the bark of mulberry trees, the dyeing and the construction of the bamboo frames. In one corner, artists paint the images on the umbrellas. The tour ends at the village centre’s shop where a huge collection of umbrellas is on sale.
Wua Lai Road Silversmiths Zone
Shops dotted along Wua Lai Road sell another of Chiang Mai’s iconic souvenir handicrafts, silver. Thongyon Silver is one of the stores boasting a large choice of nicely designed and crafted silver items. Household cutlery, ornamental plates, traditional Thai bowls, plaques, earrings, anklets, rings, bracelets and necklaces are among the items which make ideal gifts or keepsakes with a distinct difference.
BEST PRODUCTS TO BUY IN CHIANG MAI
Creating all manner of items from wood is a craft Chiang Mai’s artisans excel at. The southern village of Baan Tawai is the epicentre of the wood carving industry in Chiang Mai. Shoppers can buy anything from beer coasters, Buddha statuettes and wooden elephants to four-poster beds and dining table and chair sets crafted from teakwood at Baan Tawai. Prices are low while sending purchases back home is not a problem as several shipping agencies have service outlets here.
Handmade Toys and Games
Children and those who are still young at heart never feel left out when it comes to shopping in Chiang Mai. Model motorcycles crafted from wood, tuk-tuks made from old beer cans and games such as shut-the-box and chess sets are just a small sample of the items of this kind sold in the Night Bazaar and on the Saturday and Sunday walking street markets.
Creating beautiful lacquerware items is another field the cottage industry artisans are good at. Jars, bowls and figurines are among the lacquerware products sold in the Night Bazaar, Baan Tawai and the outlet factories at San Kamphaeng. The polish and decorative designs on each piece are hand crafted and ensure the finished articles are lovely mementos of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai’s silversmith heritage is said to date back more than 700 years to the time of King Mengrai. The city’s modern silversmiths are still skilled at creating bespoke jewellery, bowls, miniature elephants, cups and trays. Wua Lai Road is the location of many of the city’s silver retail shops. Louis Silverware and Patanaanunwong are two of several silverware retail outlets on San Kamphaeng Road.
Thais consider gold a safe investment and far better than money in the bank. In even the smallest towns, there are red-fronted shops which sell mostly gold necklaces. The shops also carry stocks of gold rings, earrings and small gold bars. A high proportion of the gold shops in Chiang Mai are located at Warorot Market.
Sa Paper Umbrellas
Gaily painted umbrellas are one of the most famous Chiang Mai souvenirs. The paper is created from the bark of sa trees (mulberry trees) and then hand painted with vivid colours and unique imagery. The frames are made from bamboo. Most of the umbrellas are made in Bo Sang Village. There are a number of outlets in the village at which to buy the finished product. Shops in the Night Bazaar also stock them.
Chiang Mai is not lacking in opportunities to buy a complete new wardrobe. The Night Bazaar and Warorot Market are the places to pick up traditional and hilltribe clothing. The range of T-shirts and contemporary clothing sold at the Night Bazaar is a major reason to visit. Tailors near the Night Bazaar and in the upper-range hotels can knock up made-to-measure suits in 24 hours at prices a fraction of those back home.
The Thai Silk Village is one of several San Kamphaeng outlets selling bespoke silk clothing as well as silk household articles. Malls such as the Central Airport Plaza and Central Festival are home to fashion outlets including international brands like Playboy, Lacoste and Marks & Spencer.
Pottery and Household Crockery
The quality of Chiang Mai’s household plates, bowls and cups is worth making the effort to transport them back home. Attractive decorative crockery on offer at the likes of Baan Celadon in San Kamphaeng is painted by hand and features imaginative designs. Earthenware pots and jars in the same area as well as Hang Dong-Baan Tawai are other practical souvenirs.
DVDs and CDs
Copy DVDs and music CDs are now not as common as they once were. The underlying reason for this is international pressure on Thailand to stamp out trade in copyrighted media. A couple of vendors in the Night Bazaar area still sell bootlegged CDs and DVDs. Outlets in all the main shopping malls stock the genuine articles. The latest film and music discs as well as older ones are often heavily discounted.
Chiang Mai boasts a huge range of locations where the latest computers, smartphones, cameras and technology accessories are sold. Due to competition and lower rents than in Western countries, prices are definitely a bargain. The Central Plaza Airport and Kad Suan Kaew malls plus ICON IT and Pantip Plaza are four of the top spots when looking for the latest technology.